It’s the middle of the night. You wake up to the sound of your phone ringing and see that you have several missed calls. Filled with panic, you answer. It’s the police informing you about an incident at your self-storage facility, and they request that you get there right away. You arrive to find a crowd of people shouting questions and shoving cell phones in your face. You have a crisis on your hands, and you don’t know what to do.
There are many possible disasters that could strike at a self-storage business: theft, vandalism, acts of violence or other illegal activity, fire, flood, cyberattack … the list goes on. Nowadays, news of these incidents can spread quickly, leaving you to watch the community goodwill you’ve spent years—maybe decades—building evaporate in an instant.
To keep this from being your fate, you need to create a crisis-communication plan. Just as you have a strategy to keep employees and tenants safe while at your property, you need one to protect your facility against public-relations catastrophes. Not only will it help you communicate effectively with staff, customers, the media and community members, it’ll outline the roles of everyone who might be involved. The goal is to safeguard your brand and business reputation.
Your crisis-communication plan should be a living document—practiced often and tested regularly. Don’t yet have one or need to update your existing protocol? The following guide will help.
The first step in establishing your crisis-communication plan is to perform an analysis of your self-storage property and operation to identify possible risk. One important factor to consider is your location. For example, are you in a fire or flood zone? An area prone to hurricanes or tornadoes? A high-crime area? While it may seem unhealthy to let your mind wander and consider the worst possible scenarios, doing so will ensure that you’re prepared for anything that comes your way.
Establish a Team
Next, you’ll need a crisis-communications team. This group will be responsible for managing unforeseen events. If your company has only one facility, this might be the owner and site manager. If you have multiple locations, the team might consist of area managers, human-resources representatives and other executives.
Regardless of the team’s size, it’s important to designate a point person who’ll communicate with customers and the press. Assigning the right representative is critical to your business' survival. As the face of the company, this individual should be calm, articulate and comfortable in front of cameras, and have good customer-service skills.
Disperse Your Message
The next step is to choose your communication strategy, meaning the protocols, systems and technologies you’ll use to effectively distribute your message. For example, will you call, text or email customers? Knowing this ahead of time will allow you to act quickly and decisively. It’s important to get the information out before people can hear it elsewhere.
Your message should be true and concise. You want to explain what happened, who was involved, where it occurred, why and how, in simple, clear terms. By providing succinct communication, you reduce the potential for speculation.
For each possible crisis you’ve identified in your analysis, craft a message to be shared by your self-storage team. The goal is to get ahead of the story and control the narrative, so your communication should go out as soon as possible. The worst thing you can do is say nothing, hope it blows over and let the public fill in the blanks. Transparency is truly the best disinfectant and never more relevant than in a crisis. Being quick to act shows your tenants they’re important and that you care about the incident and its outcome.
If a situation arises for which you haven’t prepared, it’s better to say something than be silent. If you’re still assessing the situation, say so. Your point person should be prepared to use a generic holding statement. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to respond to tenants and the press by saying, “We’ve recently been informed that a [what] occurred at [location] at [time], involving [who]. The incident is under investigation and more information is forthcoming.” Let them know that as soon as an update is available, it’ll be shared.
Once the message goes out, expect a flurry of inquiries. When speaking to self-storage tenants, remember to be sympathetic. If your facility had a fire or flood, offering them free boxes and locks will be appreciated and go a long way in generating goodwill. Simple gestures like these won’t necessarily fix the problem, but they’re a way to make lemonade from the lemons you were given.
Plan and Message Examples
Following are two specific examples of disasters that could happen at a self-storage facility, including the communication plan and sample messaging.
Example 1. Ten units were broken into at ABC Self Storage. The plan is to reach all affected self-storage tenants by phone, text and email. Here’s the message to send:
Hello. This is Joe Smith from XYZ Storage. On Monday, April 2, an unknown person broke into your unit at the Main Street facility. We have replaced your lock. The police were called, and a report is being filed. Please come to the facility to determine if anything is missing from your space. If you have a tenant-insurance policy or tenant-protection plan, we’ll provide you with the claim number and assist you in filing.
Example 2. A fire occurred at XYZ Self Storage. The plan is to send a text and email to all tenants letting them know the date and time of the incident as well as which units were affected. You also intend to post an announcement to the company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Message: On Monday, April 2, there was a fire at our facility at 123 Main St. in City, State. The fire department was called by the manager on duty. Two of the four buildings were affected. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation. At your convenience, we request that you come to the facility to check the status of your property. If you’re covered under a tenant-insurance policy or tenant-protection plan, we’ll provide you with the claim number and assist you in filing.
Monitor the Web
If a crisis occurs at your self-storage facility, continually monitor the internet for all mentions of your business. You can preemptively look for your company name with Google alerts. This is a free notification service that sends emails summarizing activity around designated search terms.
Keep an eye on review sites like Apple Business Connect, Google Business Profile and Yelp as well as any social media platforms you use. You may be able to set up email notifications that’ll alert you about any negative comments or posts, or media mentions. Luckily, there are several reputation-management tools available to help you automate the process. When comparing them, pick one that provides a single place from which to respond to reviews and other messages.
When the dust settles, conduct a post-crisis review to determine what parts of your crisis-communication plan worked, what didn’t, and what changes may be necessary. An emergency is a very real possibility for any business. Whether it’s a criminal act or natural disaster, you can’t control when or if it happens; however, you can control what you say when it does.
Christina Rita is chief operating officer for Walnut Creek, California-based StoragePro Management Inc., a third-party management company specializing in self-storage. Founded in 1986, the company provides services in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. For more information, call 877.915.7806; email [email protected].